Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Dola: Gotta start talkin’ like a real pirate!

Sheeta: I’ve been practicing! Um… Harrrrr, matey! Shiver me timbers!

Dola: Keep practicing…

“The earth speaks to all of us, and if we listen, we can understand.”  – Uncle Pomme

Onward we move. The next in our adventures in Miyazaki world is 1986’s Castle in the Sky. This was the first movie actually released by his animation studio, Studio Ghibli. Unlike Nausicaa, which was based on a manga (comic) written by Miyazaki himself, this one is an original story. Let’s dive right in.

During the credits we get a bit of backstory to our world. People used to live in these giant floating cities. Then, there was some sort of unspoken, unpictured catastrophe, and the cities were all but destroyed. People were forced to live back on the ground, and only one city remained: Laputa. But it disappeared into the clouds and was never seen again.

Then we open on an airship, where a girl named Sheeta is being kept prisoner by a man named Muska. The airship gets attacked by pirates, who are also looking for the girl, and in their struggle to obtain her and this strange amulet she has around her neck, Sheeta ends up falling off the airship and goes careening down towards the earth. She passes out just as her amulet lights up and slows her fall.

From here we cut to a small town in the mountains, where we’re introduced to our other lead character, Pazu, a boy who works in the mines and lives alone. He sees Sheeta fall out of the sky, catches her, and takes her back to his house where she rests and awakens. They talk about the amulet, and she didn’t even know it could do that. He shows her all the cool stuff in his house, including a picture his father took of Laputa, the lost floating city. He mentions that he’s going to be just like his father and find it one day, if he can ever get out of the town.

Eventually both the Pirates, led by a woman named Dola, and Muska and his soldiers find where Sheeta is hiding and chase them throughout the town. Pazu and Sheeta manage to get away but fall into a mine, where they run into a strange old man named Uncle Pomme, who, upon seeing Sheeta’s crystal light up, tells them that it is made of a rock called Aetherium – the very same rock that was used to keep Laputa aloft.

They come out of the caves and are captured by Muska. While Pazu is thrown into the dungeon of his hideout, Sheeta is taken to a room where Muska reveals who she is: she is of the royal line of Laputa, and as such is one of the only people who can help him find Laputa. He makes her activate the amulet, and it shines a beam of light – the direction Laputa is supposed to be in. He threatens Pazu, who ends up returning home to find Dola and the Pirates. He talks them into helping him rescue Sheeta, and they’re off.

Meanwhile, Muska shows Sheeta a fallen battle robot with the same mark on it as on her necklace: the mark for Laputa. He explains why he wants to find Laputa: it was known to house many more of these robots, and as such is an incredibly dangerous thing to keep in the Sky. He aims to destroy it so it and the robots will not be a threat to anyone in the future. Not sure what she believes, Sheeta in her cell recites a prayer her grandmother taught her and accidentally turns on the Robot, and it begins to destroy Muska’s base while hunting for her to protect her. The pirates and Pazu come and rescue her, but not before Muska can snag her amulet.

Aboard the pirate airship, Pazu and Sheeta find themselves fitting in, traveling in the same direction the amulet was pointing in. They are going to attempt to find Laputa before Muska can. It turns out it’s in the middle of a giant thunderstorm, and Pazu and Sheeta get separated from Dola and the gang before crash landing in their little glider onto a city completely devoid of humans.

As they explore, they find that one robot is active: however this one is not aggressive as the other was. Instead, he is taking care of the forest that has started to grow on Laputa, taking care of the plants and the animals (bonus points if you can find the little cat-squirrel thing from Nausicaa!). They wander more and find that both Muska and Dola have also landed, but the pirates now find themselves captives.

Muska’s soldiers begin stealing the treasure that awaits them on Laputa, while Muska himself heads toward the city’s center. He captures Sheeta once more and takes her with him. Pazu frees Dola and the gang before pursuing Muska.

Inside the city center, its revealed that the floating city was a center for knowledge and weapons. Muska also reveals that he too is of the royal line, and uses the amulet and knowledge of Laputa to start the weapons and destroy the soldiers he came with: instead of destroying the city, he’s set on ruling the world. Pazu attempts to rescue Sheeta, he gets the amulet, they are reunited after a bit more crazy from Muska, and the two kids recite the prayer of destruction, which begins to tear Laputa’s center apart.  As the kids are reunited and escape with Dola and the Gang, we see Laputa, being held together by the roots of the giant tree residing inside it, floating off into orbit around earth.

The end.

If I had to use one word to describe this movie, it wouldn’t be hard to think of. Fun. This movie is just pure FUN. There’s pirates and flying cities and airships and robots and humor, adventure and mystery. This movie literally has a little bit of everything.

As I mentioned in my last review, Miyazaki tends to have the same themes in many of his movies. They are 1. Strong female characters, 2. Flying contraptions, and 3. The environment. This movie has all three.

If it’s lacking in one, I hate to say it, but it’s in the female characters. We have Sheeta, who is our main female protagonist. She’s ok, but I wouldn’t say she’s necessarily the strongest character Miyazaki’s ever written. She’s just a girl, plucked from her home and thrown into a situation she didn’t know how to get out of. In all honesty she’s probably my least favorite character. There’s nothing really wrong with her, she’s just kinda too normal. She’s not overly strong, or confident. She doesn’t really go through a huge change throughout the movie either. Instead, she relies on Pazu. That’s not bad, it just doesn’t epitomize the “strong female character” that some of Miyazaki’s earlier and later movies depict.

One that does, however, is Dola, the head of the Pirate gang. She is absolutely awesome. She’s stubborn, doesn’t take any crap from anyone, and oh my goodness she is just great. Her “gang” are mostly her sons, and her husband is even on the ship, but you can tell she runs the show. It’s almost a running gag that she’s not really a woman, because she doesn’t do the things that women typically do. She is constantly there to tell them that yes, women can do these things. Why wouldn’t they? The whole pirate gang are great, because they start out as villains, searching like Muska, for the amulet, but end up as good guys that actually end up caring about these two kids searching for this lost city. Sure, they’re also in it for the gold and treasure, but that’s kinda to be expected. they’re pirates.

I’ll talk about the other characters in a bit, but I want to go on to number two on my list, the flying contraptions. There is only one other Miyazaki movie that takes the flying machines to extremes as this one and has them almost as their own character. It is front and center in the plot of the story. We have pirate airships and huge airships with undulating wing-things. We have small basket gliders. And of course we have the huge floating cities. I love that there’s actually a substance that keeps the cities afloat as opposed to having the city just have a bunch of propellors or something. It’s great.

Third on the list is the environment. Although it’s not front and center with this movie as it was with Nausicaa and how it is in some of his others, his ideals about the environment still manage to sneak their way into this movie. In this movie, it’s all about the consistency of the environment and how it can outlast even war, technology, greed, etc. The trees and everything that grow on Laputa end up everywhere. There’s a scene where Muska and Sheeta get into the bowels of Laputa and find the throne room destroyed by the roots of the tree. Muska freaks out and remarks “it’s everywhere, look at it!” and starts to rip the roots out of place, claiming that nature is ugly and disgusting. Meanwhile, at the end, it’s the tree that survives, along with that kind robot who takes care of the forest. Not as in your face, but it’s there. It’s also black and white: the villain resents nature, while the good guys find it as refreshing and interesting that a forest grew.

Alright, how are the other characters besides our females? MUCH better than in Nausicaa. Muska is a pretty amazing villain. He’s slimy, self-centered, and really doesn’t ever seem to have any sort of epiphany about how what he’s doing may not be the best idea. He’s evil through and through, and I think that’s a great villain for this movie. He literally doesn’t care who he kills or what he has to do if it means he can rule his very own floating city and use robots to kill whoever he wants. He doesn’t care who he hurts, and that’s kinda awesome. He goes from sort of not that crazy to flat out crazy crazy crazy dude. that’s fun to watch.

Pazu is also really kinda amazing. I sort of adore this character due to how optimistic, kind and determined he is. He’s had this dream his entire life based on a story from his father to find Laputa, and this adventure just sort of falls in his lap. Not once is he upset about it, or scared. If anything, he just enjoys the trip the whole time. But not at the cost of his friends. He’s determined to rescue Sheeta, then determined to rescue Dola. He’s not afraid to stand up to Muska, and in the end he just seems happy that he was involved in what he was. I know some people who don’t like Pazu or claim that he’s just being selfish most of the time, using Sheeta to fulfill his dream, but I don’t see it like that. He started helping her before he knew she was connected to Laputa. I think that thing just sort of fell in his lap. It was his destiny.

Another thing I love about this movie is the friendship that forms between Pazu and Sheeta. In the beginning all the way up to when they’re on Dola’s ship, you really don’t know why Pazu is so determined to rescue Sheeta (again, i think this is why some people might think that he’s acting selfishly – using her as a ticket to Laputa). But once they’re on Dola’s ship, there’s a few conversations that occur that show you that they really do have this deep connection. They’re separated because on the ship women are separated from the men, and Sheeta ends up sneaking up to the glider Pazu’s on his watch. They missed each other. It’s kinda adorable. And it’s never anything more. It’s just two friends on an adventure, and it’s fun to watch.

There are a few issues I have with this movie, even though I love it. The first is that this movie does actually take a bit to get going. Not that it’s bad in the beginning, but things really pick up, at least for me, when the duo get onto Dola’s ship. Everything before really is set up, and it’s done well, but for me it just seems to drag a bit.

The other issue that I have is one that isn’t an issue that arrises with the story, but instead with the dubbing. I’ll talk more about dubbing (both good and bad) on other reviews, but with this dub, there is a scene that really just did not translate well, and it honestly makes it a bit awkward.

Before I talk about the scene, I have to explain something first: the original Pazu and Sheeta in the Japanese dub were originally about 8 or 10 years of age. When they went and dubbed it in english, they decided for whatever reason to make the kids older, like 13 or so. Ok… now that you know that….

The scene in question is one on Dola’s ship. They’ve just arrived and Dola told Sheeta that she needed to go work in the kitchen, peel potatoes and all that jazz. As the scene progresses, more and more of Dola’s sons go into the kitchen and offer to help. In the english dub, this gets seriously awkward, because the words they chose really make you think like they are all attempting to flirt with this girl. Apparently though in the Japanese version, it isn’t like this. First of all, she’s 8, and the guys are just trying to get out of working on the ship and would rather help the girl. All the blushing and whatnot that happens during the scene? That’s really just Japanese animation. It has nothing to do with flirting bashfullness or whatnot. So bad on you dub!!! You made things awkward!!

Here’s a few other good or bad things about this movie:

~ Have I mentioned that this movie is really hilarious? Cause it is. There’s a scene where men rip their shirts just with the sheer force of their muscle. There’s also slow motion punching. It’s awesome.

~ Mark Hamill is the voice of Muska. That’s right. It’s like Luke Skywalker joined the Dark Side.

~Little tiny James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin are Pazu and Sheeta. They do a good job. But he will always and forever be Dawson and she will always and forever be Rogue in my head. or the little girl teaching a bunch of geese to migrate in Fly Away Home.

~Although I gave away everything in my plot, it really is done well. You don’t see half of the plot twists coming.

I would definitely recommend this movie to people. It might be a good one to start with, especially if you have boys or if you want something a little more light but older. It’s one of my favorites, just because it’s just so much fun. Give it a watch and see what you think.

I give Castle in the Sky (1986) a 4 out of 5.

Up Next: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)


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